Japan announced its biggest defence budget on Wednesday as it prepares plans to scrap the constitutional ban on military operations overseas. The 4.98 trillion yen (S$56.05 billion) budget was announced as talks took place between China and Japan on maritime crisis management.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet approved the budget - an increase of 2 per cent on last year's and the third consecutive rise after a decade of military spending cuts.
Managing a military budget per capita four times higher than China's, Japan's defence minister accused Beijing in a new year address of being a major maritime threat.
Abe is determined to introduce "collective self-defence" this year, reinterpreting the Constitution to allow Japanese forces to be deployed overseas.
China said on Wednesday that Japan's military and security policies have long attracted consistent attention from its Asian neighbours and the international community, and the development of the policies is a "prominent indicator" of its intentions.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, "We hope that the Japanese will regard history as a mirror and follow the path of peaceful development and play a constructive role to promote regional peace and stability."
Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, predicted that Abe will not put the brakes on Japan's military buildup and that Tokyo will "court and contain China" simultaneously.
British newspaper The Guardian said on its website that the budget increase is in line with Japan's more assertive defence policy under Abe, "as he seeks to counter Chinese influence and remove the postwar legal shackles from his country's military".
Reuters said, "Abe favors a stronger role for Japan's military, despite a commitment to pacifism enshrined in the US-inspired Constitution drawn up after the country's defeat in World War II."
The budget allows for a major purchase of equipment including 20 P-1 maritime surveillance aircraft, six F-35A fighters, five Osprey planes that double as helicopters, Global Hawk drones, two Aegis radar-equipped destroyers and a missile defence system to be jointly developed with the US.
Tokyo also plans to buy 30 amphibious assault vehicles and an early-warning aircraft.
On Wednesday, the Japanese Cabinet also approved a budget for the country's Coast Guard, a move widely interpreted as countering regular patrols by Beijing in waters off China's Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, according to Japan's Kyodo News Agency.
The Japanese Coast Guard confirmed this month that six new large patrol vessels will be put into use this year and a special squad of 12 patrol boats and 600 personnel will be established to deal with the islands issue.
On Monday in Tokyo, Japan and China held the fourth round of talks on an expected maritime crisis management mechanism to avoid "miscalculation" escalating in the East China Sea. They agreed to launch the mechanism as soon as possible once broad agreement is reached.
Zhou said, "Abe may continue improving relations with China, but Tokyo will not give up its strategy of hedging against China, as China is still the biggest threat to Japan in the long run."
Koichi Nakano, a politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, told The Guardian, "Quite simply, Japan cannot afford to get into an arms race with China."